NFL Week 14: The Hits Keep Coming

No sense in burying the lead here. We’ll start with this:

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Image Credit: Deadspin

Spare me the, “Gronkowski’s not a dirty guy!” argument.

This hit is inexcusable in a league that is attempting to curb the effects of CTE caused by head trauma. A league, mind you, that claims to care deeply about its players well being. Interesting then that Gronkowski only received a one game suspension from the league office.

Let’s keep our narratives straight here as we dive deeper. So far we have an exonerated Ezekiel Elliott suspended six games for something he has never been convicted of or been proven to have done, but we have a 6’7″ 250 plus pound tight end throwing his elbow into the back of an opponent’s helmet only receive a one game suspension. Seems just and fair, right? And there’s the Monday night game between the Steelers and the Bengals…

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After leading with his helmet, Shazier dropped instantly following a tackle in the first quarter. Image Credit: Total Pro Sports

All pro and budding star linebacker, Ryan Shazier, of the Steelers made a hit over the middle on Bengals wide receiver, Josh Malone, and immediately fell to the ground in agony. Shazier led with his helmet, and unfortunately this isn’t the first time Shazier has done this.

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2016 NFL Playoffs – Shazier hits Bernard in what is know deemed an illegal fashion, leading with his helmet. Image Credit: The National

In 2016 Shazier broke Giovanna Bernard’s jaw leading with the crown of his helmet as he made a tackle on the Bengals running back in a playoff game. The cruel irony in all of this is that it was this hit that led to the NFL legislating against leading with the crown of one’s helmet in order to protect offensive players from injury; however, on Monday night it was Shazier who needed protection from himself. 

Football is a violent and physical game, but no one wants to see what happened to Shazier. Yes, the men who step out on the field every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday understand the risk, or at least that there is some, but possible paralyzation or worse are never in the cards. You can’t compete that way and if you attempted to you’d be paralyzed. The nature of competition in football is to put the fear of God in the other man so that maybe, just maybe, he flinches first. Then you’ve won. Or so they say. Because injuries like Shazier’s make us all take a step back and question what it is that is asked of these modern day gladiators.

Are we willing to continue watching to the point of death? Are we truly harkening back to the Gladiator days? “Are we not entertained?!” Seriously, we must all wrestle with the better sides of our demons as football fans. If we want better then we have to begin demanding better. We must demand that hits like Gronkowski’s or even JuJu Smith-Schuster’s….

Image Credit: ESPN MNF – choiz.me & CBS Boston – CBS Local

Yeah, you know, the hit from JuJu on Vontaze Burfict where, in a game where one man was already carted off of the field, the rookie Schuster-Smith decided the prudent thing to do was to stand over a man he had just leveled and likely concussed. Classy move rook.

It’s moments like these that make you question the sincerity of a league that preaches player safety, yet only suspends a budding star and standing superstar a mere one game. A man who was convicted of nothing, but involved in a topic that the league whiffed on years ago? Nearly half a season suspension! Men who literally act in defiance, contrary to written rules of play endangering and even celebrating injuring another player? One game….say what now?! You’ve got to be kidding me. The NFL has some skeletons in its closet and they are being brought to bear. Slowly but surely the NFL must address this stain on its legacy, or else “defending the shield” won’t be worth the overpriced dri-fit Tees it’s printed on.

Now that we’ve moved on from that fun bit, let’s get to the games!

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Nine and seven last week or 9 for 16 as we like to put it. One game off from our ten win mark in week twelve, so let’s see if we can’t get it back on track and even surpass our efforts from two weeks ago!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Early Games

Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills

We’re a bit crunched for time so we’ll keep this short. Both teams are out of playoff contention for all intents and purposes. Solidifying that fact for the Bills is that they will be trotting out Nathan Peterman for another round of pick six! Tyrod Taylor is still battling a leg injury and will miss week 14. Bills fans, for your sake let’s hope Peterman looks more competent than he did a few weeks ago. He may have his big target, Kelvin Benjamin back, “so we’re saying there’s a chance!”

Indy hasn’t been much better this season, but their D has improved all season. Typically they’ve played better at home than on the road, but we may see the Colts flex their muscle this week. Jacoby Brissett, T.Y. Hilton, and Frank Gore should all have big days. Also, we love “Shady” McCoy, so for the love of all that is good please Buffalo, trade him! It is a shame to watch talents like LeSean waste away out of the lights of primetime and robbing us fans of his unique skillset on full display. Colts win straight up. 

Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants

Well that was quick! One Geno Smith start and Eli Manning benching and one head coach firing. What’s that? The GM was fired too? Hah! Nice one Jerry Reese! Enjoy that early vacay! Everyone knew benching Eli wasn’t just a terrible call, it was a disloyal, dishonest, and cowardly move by a poor excuse for a GM and head coach. You drafted and traded for this mess of a team, you either take responsibility for the fall out and clean it up or see your yourself out. Good riddance. The Giants and Eli deserve better.

Down to the brass tax of this game. Sorry Giants fans, that’s about as nice as we’re going to get. You’re still a mess of a team, and unfortunately for you the Cowboys started to get some of their groove back this past week dominating at the line of scrimmage. Alfred Morris ran all over his old team and every facet of the ‘Boys game looked improve for their previous three game skid. That means bad news for the home team. Cowboys will get up early thanks to Dak and their offense and then ground and pound the game away, inching closer to that final playoff spot. (‘Boys cover -3.5)

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Morris celebrating a touchdown with his patented “home run” swing, may be hitting a couple of dingers in a great matchup against the Giants D this Sunday. Image Credit: 5pointsblue.com

Detroit Lions @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The 6 and 6 Lions head to Tampa where they’ll fight to keep their playoff hopes alive. It’s win or go home for the Lions. Fortunately for Detroit they’ll take on the abysmal 4 and 8 Bucs. Tampa Bay does have Jameis Winston back for another week, which does improve their chances of keeping this close. The Bucs also get back running back Doug Martin who is expected to play. For the first time since early on in the season the Bucs should have their full compliment of skill players on offense.

Will the talent on Tampa’s side be enough to knock off the better coached and more experienced Detroit squad? This sets up as the type of game that Tampa will surprise people with and win. We’ve held strong to our mantra at TSO however and believe defense and dominance up front matters. With that in mind, and Tampa ranked as the second worst defense in total yards allowed, we like the Lions to win straight up. 

Oakland Raiders @ Kansas Chiefs

Possibly the game of the week takes place at Arrowhead as the stumbling Chiefs look to right the ship against division foe Oakland. The Raiders come into town after two impressive performances by Marshawn Lynch, looking more and more like the Beast Mode of old as the season wears on. Lynch posted his first 100 yard game of the season against the reeling Giants. Giants yes, but still, it was an impressive effort from Lynch. Marshawn will be integral if the Raiders hope to make a run at the division or wild card in the AFC.

The Chiefs, once the cinderella darlings of the NFL, have fallen out of favor with fans and analysts alike during their skid. Losers of their last four, Kansas City is looking to find some rhythm heading into the post season, if they are to make it at all. Alex Smith did everything except play defense in New York last week, keeping alive the slimmest of MVP hopes for the crafty vet. For the Chiefs to get on track though they’ll need Kareem Hunt to start running like the breakout star he looked like through the first half of the season, and not the bust from the second half. It will also help if the Chiefs D can step up and stop allowing offenses to air it out all over the field on them. A task much more difficult with Marcus Peters’s absence.

Peters is serving an Andy Reid imposed one game suspension for his ridiculous antics in the team’s loss to the Jets, where Marcus threw a referee’s flag into the stands after disagreeing with a call. Kudos to Reid and the Chiefs for doing the right thing, imposing a just suspension even when the league did not. It’s nice to see some organizations do things the right way. Sometimes moves like this can cause a team to come together and gel as a unit. We think Reid galvanizes the troops and KC starts to resemble the team that terrified the league at home in Arrowhead. (Chiefs cover -4)

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Smith will need to avoid Mack and his disruptive ability in order to keep KC on track in week 14. Image Credit: ESPN.com

San Francisco 49ers @ Houston Texans

The Niners, winners of two of their last three, will look to build momentum in Houston against a decimated Texans squad. The Jimmy Garoppolo era has officially begun in San Francisco and he kicked off his first start in impressive fashion. The Niners most definitely are wanting for playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, but for now Garoppolo will have to do his best with Carlos Hyde and Marquise Goodwin. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan certainly have big plans for San Fran moving forward, but we’ll find a lot out about them as a team this week.

The Texans, for all of their faults, and there are many, still manage to impress on defense from time to time. Jimmy G and co. won’t find the going easy against a still solidly build Texans D. Even though it doesn’t make sense to keep starting Tom Savage when a player like Colin Kaepernick is available, Bill O’Brien be damned they keep doing it. Savage does find ways to get the ball in the area of DeAndre Hopkins who can bring down just about anything sharing the same zip code. Outside of that though the Texans struggle to find any offense. The Niners find another win, making it back to back, and their first road win of the season. (+3)

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Fist pump for the win, Jimmy G will look to build on his good work in week 14. Image Credit: Bleacher Report

Green Bay Packers @ Cleveland Browns

The Packers are hanging tough while they await Aaron Rodgers pending return. The Pack is holding out hope that Rodgers can return in time to send the Pack to the playoffs on the strength of yet another stretch run through December. To keep hope alive Green Bay will have to go through Cleveland. That may not sound all that difficult, but the return of Josh Gordon, coupled with the good play of Corey Coleman have made the Browns a formidable opponent.

In his first game back Gordon caught four passes for 85 yards. Impressive for a player who last took the field in 2014. The question for the Browns will be whether DeShone Kizer can continue to improve his play and decision making. Isiah Crowell should have a big day, and Gordon will feast on a below average secondary in Green Bay. Brett Hundley will need play more like the QB from Sunday night two weeks ago and less like the questionable decision maker from last week. Browns get their first win of the season off of a monster game from Josh “Flash” Gordon and Green Bay nears elimination from playoff contention. (+3)

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Gordon proved he hasn’t missed a step in his three years off the field. Image Credit: USA Today

Chicago Bears @ Cincinnati Bengals

The Chicago Bears take on the Cincinnati Bengals in the “only fantasy football players care about this game,” game. Yeah, we said it. As a football fan there is some intrigue in seeing what the young Bears squad will do against a good but not great Bengals team, but that’s about it. With their tough loss on Monday night to the Steelers, the Bengals all but lost their shot at a spot in the playoffs. Cincy played well on Monday night, and Andy Dalton specifically looked impressive in the driving rain.

The Bengals simply weren’t good enough in all phases this season. They are good, but they weren’t consistent, which is part and parcel of being “good enough”. In years past Marvin Lewis has been very adept at getting the Bengals the wins they need and contending when others though they wouldn’t. This season, even with a rookie running back who many thought would improve their running game, the Bengals bungled their way to irrelevance. The Bengals win for pride more than anything else, but the question will be whether Lewis’s coaching seat heats up. (Bengals win but don’t cover -6)

Minnesota Vikings @ Carolina Panthers

The game of the week is in Charlotte where an eight win Panthers team hosts the NFC leading Minnesota Vikings. We’ll keep saying this until it changes. The Vikings team lead by CASE-freaking-KEENUM! How?! We still aren’t sure. Keenum found another win in a close with Atlanta last week, but he’ll be tested yet again in week 14. It doesn’t seem to matter though as his superior athletic teammates continue making game changing plays, be it long tackle breaking runs or incredible catches. The Vikings continue to find a way to limit Keenum’s mistakes and capitalize on their field position afforded by their dominant defense.

The Panthers don’t have a talent even close to that of Julio Jones or dare we even say Mohamed Sanu, which means Rhodes will smother Devin Funchess. Newton will have to make plays with Christian McCafferey and tight end Greg Olsen (assuming Olsen’s able to go). Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith can run with McCafferey and contain him, meaning the X-factor will be Newton. Ron Rivera and Cam himself wouldn’t have it any other way. This will be difficult for Cam, but will tell us a lot about his development. If Newton can throw the ball away before the Vikings get to him, living to fight another day, Carolina has the D that can push back against Minnesota and pull out a win. If Cam does too much, it will be a long day for a Panthers fan base with high hopes. We’re banking on Keenum and the Vikings D disrupting the Panthers, even though we’re ready for this Minnesota mirage to wear off. (Vikes cover -2.5)

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Some way, some how, Keenum keeps finding improbable wins with the Vikings. Image Credit: Pioneer Press – twincities.com

Afternoon Games

Sometimes life gets in the way of football. Here’s the take on the afternoon games. Better late than never!

New York Jets @ Denver Broncos

Let’s talk about the Denver Broncos. There was a point in time a couple of years ago when TSO was admiring the skills of John Elway and his business savvy running the Denver Broncos. And while the Denver Defense is not bad there is not much else good to say about this team. Trevor Siemian has regressed. John Elway appears not to be able to make a decision that’s good for the team.

On the other side of this matchup there are the New York Football Jets. And while Josh McCown looks good and is playing well, the Jets simply should not win this football game. But they will. The Jets win and cover (-1).

Tennessee Titans @ Arizona Cardinals

The #2 receivers on opposing teams have big games against the Arizona Cardinals. Why? Because Patrick Peterson is the best thing the Cardinals have going and he will be covering Titan Rishard Matthews. This means that TSO expects Corey Davis and Delanie Walker to have good days. A really good day for Davis teeing up to have a breakout game. We’ll keep this one short because Tennessee will dominate and cover (-3).

Washington Redskins @ Los Angeles Chargers

You know how to spell mediocrity? R-E-D-S-K-I-N-S.

To believe in the Washington Redskins you have to believe in Samaje Perine and Jamison Crowder. And that’s not easy. And as of late it is becoming clear why the hesitation to pay Kirk Cousins the big bucks.

And these guys are playing the Chargers. Rivers has his good days, Melvin Gordon is solid and Keenan Allen is playing EXTREMELY well. (Did we say EXTREMELY well?)

The Chargers do struggle to put it together as a complete team but they are better than Washington. Chargers to win and cover (-6).

Philadelphia Eagles @ Los Angeles Rams

This may be the toughest call of the week.

But first – a confession. Carson Wentz reminds TSO of Brett Favre. We are fans and so TSO’s heart goes to the Eagles in this game. But unfortunately for Philly, that’s where it ends. Interesting Fact: The Philadelphia Eagles have only beaten ONE (1) Team with a winning record this season. Just ONE. (Eagles defeated the Carolina Panthers on October 12.)

And as for the Rams, well, they’re just a much better team. They are balanced. They can run and pass (short or down the field). They have a strong defense and are very well coached by Sean McVay even if he the youngest coach in the NFL. McVay came into the Rams organization and instead of imposing a system he assessed the talent and the team and is bringing the best out of Goff and Gurley (DGD) and the defense.

The Eagles got punched in the mouth last week by Seattle and TSO expects them to take another one this week at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams. Rams win and cover (-1).

Seattle Seahawks @ Jacksonville Jaguars

We’ll hit the highlights of this one for each team. Blake Bortles and the Jax Offense is just not good but the Jacksonville Jaguars defense is no joke. In fact, they are very good. TSO expects that D to pressure Russell Wilson and they may even get to him once or twice during the game.

But c’mon. Russell Wilson is playing at the top of his game. He is big and has a cannon for an arm. He escapes tackles and makes plays. He is involved in and responsible for almost ALL of the Seattle Touchdowns this year. Russell Wilson will be the one to frustrate the good defense of Jacksonville and not the other way around. Seattle wins and we will absolutely take the points (+3).

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

If this game were in Baltimore we’d lean heavily on the Ravens as they are tough to beat at home in December. The Ravens D is rocking and rolling. Also rocking? The Killer B’s in black and yellow. Ben, Bell, and Brown are on a roll, and Martavis Bryant has been stepping up too. Will Flacco be able to keep pace?

This should be a big game for Danny Woodhead as we expect the Ravens to play catch up. Since losing Joe Haden the Steelers secondary has been exposed, but will one of the worst passing offenses in football be able to take advantage of it? Flacco has looked awful at times, and Maclin nor Wallace have stepped up to fill the void left since Steve Smith Sr. retired. Paging Perriman, Breshard? The former first rounder has been quiet as well. The Steelers won’t have Ryan Shazier as we’ve noted, but will it help Baltimore?

Alex Collins has been on a tear of late, but he will hit a wall against the Steel Curtain. Flacco is going to have to air it out, and the Ravens will need to keep an eye on the clock as the last time the Steelers played them they gave Lev Bell over 30 touches. Bell will gladly do the same thing with a Steelers lead and game in hand. Too much offense for Pitt. (Steelers cover -4.5).

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Ringing their bell. Le’Veon ran all over Baltimore in their first matchup and we expect more of the same in this one. Image Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette

Monday, December 11th, 2017

Monday Night Football

New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins

We know New England is going to win this game, but what fun is that? In the next few minutes we’ll endeavor to convince you otherwise. We’ll seek to convince that these Fins can in fact swim! We know, we know, Jay Cutler….woof….but hear us out…

With Gronkowski out, the Dolphins win the receiving corps and tight end matchup. The Dolphins have superior talent with Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and tight end Julius Thomas. The Pats may get Chris Hogan back, which will be a huge boost to a Pats squad that is down to Brandin Cooks. Granted, Brady uses Burkhead as an H-do-it-all style back, but still, the advantage in terms of talent certainly lies with the Dolphins. Will Smokin’ Jay Cutty be able to get it to his weapons? We think there’s reason for optimism.

Expect New England’s secondary led by Stephon Gilmore and Malcom Butler to attempt to do some ball hawking and bait Cutler into ill advised throws as Jay has want to do. To counter this Adam Gase will utilize Landry in the slot to excess, as well as Thomas and Kenyan Drake out of the backfield. Drake being the key here. We know what Landry and Thomas are capable of, but what drives Bill Belichick crazy is the unknown. The Evil Genius has little to no tape on Drake outside of his days at ‘Bama and their one matchup when Drake was still splitting snaps. Drake is unleashed as the lead back and he is a beast.

Drake has the size, 6’1″ 200+ lbs., and speed, clocking a 4.45 forty time at his combine, and if you’ve watched him run you’ve seen his elusiveness. Head coaches don’t just let running backs like Jay Ajayi go if there isn’t a. an irreparable issue in the locker room and/or b. an even more talented player waiting in the wings. In the Ajayi and Drake case it looks like both ingredients were present. Without Dont’a Hightower the Pats will struggle to contain Drake. His ability to blow past defenders and work well in space will help the Dolphins win the field position game, which drives Brady and Belichick mad.

Once you flip the field a couple of times and come away with points you can make Brady press. If Brady presses, he should find Cooks doubled with safety help over the top, meaning he’ll look to Burkhead or Hogan (assuming Chris gives it a go). Now it will be up to the big boys up front, Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh, to earn those big paychecks. If Wake and Suh can move Brady off his spot and get a sack or two, the Dolphins have a recipe for success against their division foes. Odds are high the Pats attempt to speed the game up early before ground and pounding with Burkhead and Lewis, but for kicks we think it doesn’t work! Dolphins win in a shocking upset and we’ll gladly take the points (+11). 

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Break-away speed. Drake will be key for a Dolphins upset. Image Credit: AL.com

Thank you so much for keeping up with us and continuing to like, love, share, follow, and all that good social media stuff! The support is greatly appreciated and doesn’t go unnoticed. We’ll work to be a bit more diligent at getting these updates out as we close out 2017. Again thank you and happy watching!

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